Wednesday, July 13, 2011

10 Great Outdoor Experiences to Enjoy in Southern Middle Tennessee

Sorry you haven't heard from me in a while—I can explain.  I just took on a full-time (but very temporary) job taking classified ads at The Columbia Daily Herald, covering for a maternity leave. (A girl's gotta make money!) Even though I've stayed busy at the Herald, I've still had eco-tourism on the brain. So, I volunteered to compile a list of awesome outdoor experiences in the area to be published in the paper's upcoming Fact Book 2011.  Here's a sneak peek at that list. (Sshhh... Don't tell the editor!)

P.S. A couple of these descriptions will look very familiar to you.

Hike Cheeks Bend Bluff View Trail — Located in the Yanahli Wildlife Management Area within the Duck River watershed, this 1.8-mile loop trail makes for an excellent hike. It is characterized by diverse terrain that ranges from a narrow dirt path through dense woods to wide-open, rocky areas with moss-covered boulders. The trail also features several beautiful overlooks of the Duck River and is marked by informative signs at its head. The hike takes about an hour to complete and is suitable for people of most ages and ability levels.
Find the Bluff View Trail on Cheeks Bend Road off of Sowell Mill Pike, east of Columbia. More information may be obtained by visiting alltrails.com/trail/us/tennessee/cheeks-bend-bluff-view-trail.  
See Stillhouse Hollow Falls — Stillhouse Hollow Falls is a 90-acre state natural area about 21 miles southwest of Columbia and three miles northeast of Summertown off U.S. Highway 43. It is on the Western Highland Rim in the Duck River watershed.
The falls can be seen by walking two-thirds of a mile along the Stillhouse Hollow Falls trail. The trail crosses an unnamed tributary that forms small scenic cascades before plunging about 75 feet over the falls.
More information may be obtained by calling the Maury County Parks and Recreation Department at (931) 375-6101or by visiting www.tn.gov/environment/na/natareas/stillhouse.
Tour a farm and pick your own produce — Agritourism is a great way to get some fresh air and have fun while learning about local agriculture. Seasonally, several area farms open up to the public, offering fresh strawberry picking in May, peach-plucking in July and pumpkins in the fall.
Farms in the area include Ring Farm in Columbia, Limoland in Pulaski, and Forgie’s Fruit Farm in Lewisburg. Activities such as hayrides, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, farm tours and petting zoos as well as pick-your-own strawberries, peaches and cherries are offered, depending on which farm you visit and the time of year. 
More information about pick-your-own farms in the area may be obtained by visiting www.pickyourown.org/TNmiddle.htm.
Canoe or kayak down the Duck River — The Duck River is an essential natural feature characterizing Southern Middle Tennessee as well as a fascinating, biologically diverse and beautiful waterway. One great way to experience the Duck first-hand is by floating down the river a few miles in a kayak or canoe. There are multiple launch locations scattered around the area. In addition, several local companies, including River Rats, Higher Pursuits and Yanahli Kayak & Canoe Co., offer rentals.
More information may be obtained by calling the Maury County Visitors Bureau at (931) 381-7176 or by visiting www.antebellum.comand clicking on the “recreation” tab. 
Mountain bike on the Chickasaw Trace — The Chickasaw Trace, a 300-acre county park, features an eight-mile trail maintained by the Columbia Cycling Club that is perfect for mountain biking and suitable for riders of all ages. The trail is narrow, characterized by a variety of different terrains and difficulty levels. It follows a small creek and then runs alongside the Duck River. Expect sudden drops, big bumps, ramps, and bridges—quite the adventure!
More information about moutain biking on the Chickasaw Trace trails may be obtained by visiting www.columbiacyclingclub.com. 
Fish Williamsport Lakes — Located  on Highway 50, 12 miles northwest of Columbia, the Williamsport Lakes Wildlife Management Area includes 1,850 acres of forest and fields for hunting and six lakes (Blue Cat, Egret, Golden Eye, Heron, Shellcracker and Whippoorwill) that range in size from 12 to 80 acres. Egret Lake and Heron Lake are designated wetlands closed to fishing and are for wildlife-viewing only. Fishing is allowed in four lakes, including Whippoorwill Lake, which is specifically for children’s fishing. Each of the four fishing lakes has a boat ramp and contains plenty of catfish, bass and other fish species.
More information about the Williamsport Lakes may be obtained by calling (931) 583-2477 or by visiting www.williamsportlake.com. 
Camp in Henry Horton State Park — Located in Chapel Hill, Henry Horton State Park is known for its championship 18-hole golf course, trap and skeet range, Olympic-sized swimming pool and great camping. The 1,140-acre park has three hiking trails (Hickory Ridge Loop, Wilhoite Mill Trail and Turkey Trail) where you may spot wildlife such as turkeys, deer and many kinds of wildflowers. Whether it’s fishing along the Duck River, playing volleyball, shooting hoops or having a picnic, Henry Horton State Park has a lot to offer.    More information about Henry Horton State Park may be obtained by calling (931) 364-2222 or by visiting www.tn.gov/environment/parks/HenryHorton.
Hike the Devil’s Backbone Trail — Devil’s Backbone State Natural Area is located near Hohenwald on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The trail offers the opportunity for a quiet hike in a natural environment little affected by human activity. This broad path winds from the pavement of the Natchez Trace Parkway out along the ridges of Tennessee’s Highland Rim, down along a creek and back again. This ecologically unique area provides time for enjoying nature and quiet reflection. The trail is a moderately strenuous loop with 200 feet of elevation change that is about 3 miles long.
More information about this natural area may be obtained by calling (615) 532-0431or by visiting www.tn.gov/environment/na/natareas/devils. 
Swim at Fairview Park — This 30-acre, gated neighborhood park includes three picnic shelters, two playground areas, public restrooms, two tennis courts, a basketball court, and a baseball field as well as Maury County’s only public pool. Admission to the pool is only $2 per person and private reservations are also available.
More information may be obtained by calling Columbia Parks and Recreation at (931) 388-8119 or by visiting www.columbiatn.com/ParksRec/Pubs/Fairview.html.
Take a scenic drive — Those who can’t handle strenuous physical activity because of age or disibility can still enjoy the natural beauty of Southern Middle Tennessee by simply taking one of the designated scenic drives that passes through the area. The 84-mile “Old Tennessee: Settlers to Soldiers Trail” is one such drive, beginning in Franklin, continuing through Leiper’s Fork and meandering through Maury County with stops in Mt. Pleasant, Columbia and Spring Hill before ending in Thompson’s Station and returning to Franklin. The stops featured on the Old Tennessee drive will include historical sites of many kinds as well as unique eateries and scenic natural areas.
More information about the Old Tennessee Trail may be obtained by calling (931) 381-7176 or by visiting www.antebellum.com.

I hope this will serve as a short reference list of things to do outside this summer. I may be stuck inside at my desk, but that doesn't mean I can't daydream about Eco-Exploring... Plus, there's always the weekend! Until next time—enjoy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Trail of Two Visits: The Cheeks Bend Bluff View Trail in Yanahli (and Why You've Probably Never Heard of It)

Last Saturday, June 18th, 2011 I took my mom, dad and younger sister, Carly, hiking on a 1.8-mile loop trail that they had never seen before. In fact, they had never even heard of it until I told them about my first hike there with some friends one weekend in May (my eco-explorer "practice run," at Leslie's suggestion.) So why is it worth mentioning that my family didn't know this trail existed? Because this particular trail is only a 30 minute drive from the house we have lived in for 10 years. The Cheeks Bend Bluff View Trail is secluded, diverse, extremely beautiful and (most importantly) located in Columbia, TN!


View Larger Map
The trail difficultly was easy, suitable for beginners and families with children or more experienced hikers looking for a quick, gorgeous trip with some neat views of the river.


Here's a quick clip of our grand entrance into the trail and introductions:


After some thorough sign-reading by Dad, we were on our way and goofing off as usual. Here's a series of short clips that summarize the silliness. Hopefully, you'll get a peek at the trail as well as a laugh or two.





The trail's terrain shifts along the way from wide-open and rocky with lots of shrubs, brush, and some cacti to dense green woods and a narrow, earthy path outlined by waist-high grasses and some truly massive deciduous trees. The best overlooks are marked by huge, moss-covered boulders, many of which dangle out far over the bluffs. During our hike, we saw a deer, a frog, a lizard, several cool insects, and a multitude of different plant species. Halfway through, I convinced my family to take a break and have a short "confessional" on a big fallen tree. Here we are, sharing our thoughts on the experience so far:



I'm only sharing the following clip at the insistence of my family. Please feel free to enjoy my naivety and humiliation:


I had no clue my dad was secretly filming me. Don't you love the way I blindly followed my mom's obvious prompts? It just goes to show you how mesmerized I was by that fantastic fungus. Hey, at least I got the shot:


The Cheeks Bend Bluff View Trail in Yanahli makes for a wonderful hour-long escape from civilization and should be enjoyable to nature lovers of all shapes, ages and sizes. It deserves to be seen, but certainly not exploited. I encourage everyone to take the time to check it out. But please, help maintain this nearly pristine piece of natural beauty. Leave nothing but footprints behind. Natives of Maury County will be amazed that they've never before visited this trail.


Thanks for reading. Please keep an eye out for my next Eco-Explorer post. (And happy trails!)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The First Adventure: A Float Down the Duck River with Leslie and Generation Conservation

The Duck River is polluted and nasty. The reason the water's so murky is that it's full of sewage. You won't find anything in there other than old tires and dead bodies. Don't eat any fish you catch out of the Duck!

Growing up in Columbia, Tennessee, these are the types of things I have always heard people say about our local river. I've lived here since I was ten years old, and only now (at age 20) am I finally realizing the truth about the Duck River — all of the statements above are invalid rumors.
         
Last Friday, June 3rd, 2011, I was fortunate enough to be included in a canoeing/kayaking trip down the Duck led by Leslie Colley and organized by The Nature Conservancy’s Generation Conservation, a progressive (and friendly!) group of young professionals from Nashville. According to Gen C’s Facebook group:

“The Nature Conservancy Tennessee Chapter's Generation Conservation group (Gen C) brings together a cross-section of Nashville’s brightest men and women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who share a love of nature, a concern for the environment, and a belief that hope and action are indispensible for making a difference. Our goal is to ensure that our peers and the next generation of Tennesseans learn about and participate in conservation at a local, regional, and global level.”

By one o'clock, we were on the water and on our way down the river. Before long, we stopped on a shady shoal to have lunch: barbecue sandwiches, chips, brownies, and drinks:

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Leslie on Mussels: “They have a great deal of value to humanity, and while they're not sexy and exciting like tigers and elephants and panda bears, I think they're really fascinating and important creatures...” Enjoy this wonderful talk that Leslie gave on a mussel shoal in the middle of our float. It’s extremely informative, easy to follow, and totally worth eight minutes of your attention.


 
 
Along the way, we saw a beautiful blue heron, a hawk, several gar, a tiny turtle, a frog, and (of course) lots and lots of mussels! Here’s one of the more exciting short clips from a very beautiful and very fun trip:

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So, what can we take from all of this fun? Not only is the Duck River an excellent source of entertainment and a great example of a true “nature experience,” it’s also a very healthy river. Mussels are filter-feeders, and  if the water they live in is polluted, they simply can’t thrive. Any basic biology or environmental science course will teach you that the health of a river can be determined by the complexity of the life it supports. Crawdads, fifty-five species of mussel, and over one-hundred species of fish call the Duck River home. That says a lot.

At the risk of sounding preachy, I believe it is imperative that we defeat these misconceptions about pollution (which definitely encourage people to litter—it can’t get any worse, right?) and enjoy and protect this incredible natural resource.

I’m so grateful that I got to take this trip down the river with a group of forward-thinking, intelligent individuals. I hope it won’t be my last time exploring with them, and I’m certain it won’t be my last float down the Duck!

Keep an eye out for my next Eco-Explorer post, coming up soon.